Standard Chartered planning to push into Iraq

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Standard Chartered (Other OTC: SCBFF - news) is planning a major push into Iraq as oil majors and development companies from Asia demand greater financial services support in the country.

Mike Rees, Standard Chartered chief executive of wholesale banking, revealed that the British bank will apply to Iraqi regulators for permission to open three business branches in Baghdad, Basra and Erbil.

Standard Chartered is also looking at opening a “representative” office in Burma, where companies are starting to see opportunities after the lifting of sanctions against the country. The bank is to advise the Burmese authorities on how to set up regulatory structures that will encourage investment and a growing financial services market.

“Associated with the name British is trust,” Mr Rees said. “It is a very important brand which I think is underestimated. But we need to use it.

“Since the Iraq war we have worked with JP Morgan to establish the Iraq Trade Bank, which was to help growth there [after] the war and the reconstruction. Off the back of that, we opened a representative office in Erbil.

“As with every country we go into, the question is once you have a rep office, how do you go to the next stage, which is to support growth?

“If we listen to our clients, our Korean clients, our oil and gas clients, they would probably want us in Basra and Erbil as branches but I suspect that we would have to be in Baghdad as well, being that it is the commercial centre.

“Our Korean clients are building infrastructure and power [in the country]. Our oil and gas clients such as BP (LSE: BP.L - news) are doing a fantastic job reaching their production targets. They want us to be there to help finance those businesses. Clearly we have to talk to the regulators, talk about the next stage, our aspiration for the country, but that is what I would be hoping.”

In an upbeat message, Mr Rees said Africa also held opportunities, with Angola and Mozambique next in line.

“Africa is a great opportunity 22pc of the world’s population will be in Africa by 2040 70pc of the population are under 30,” he said. “Trade is in our DNA, we just needed to adapt to different trading patterns.

“We realised that the needs of our clients were becoming more and more sophisticated and we weren’t meeting their needs.

“So what we have done over the past 10 years is become more relevant. They need capabilities cash management, foreign exchange, derivatives, capital markets, mergers and acquisitions.”

Despite many regulatory headwinds for the City, Mr Rees said that new areas such as renminbi trading offered the chance of growth.

“This is a world that we are in the forefront of trying to develop and we keep under-estimating the speed of growth,” he said. “London now has 10pc market share of the international renminbi trade, which is equivalent to Singapore.

“What the manufacturers [in China] are facing are increased labour costs, increased energy costs, so they have less ability now to absorb the friction costs of doing business in dollars and converting to renminbi to pay their costs.”

Recently, German businesses have been using Standard Chartered for trade deals with China, Mr Rees said, pointing out that the bank had more than 100 branches in China in 38 cities.